Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Same Thing

"My wife had strep last week. Now I have the same thing.”

I receive one “same thing” phone call per week. Naturally, guests hope I’ll agree.

This is not the traditional warning against self-diagnosis, because the guests are usually right. If necessary, I’m happy to phone a pharmacy with the appropriate prescription.

Everyone with an upset stomach suspects food poisoning. If your dinner companions are also sick, it’s a possibility, but if you’re the only one, you probably suffer the common stomach virus which makes you miserable for a day or two. Most guests with vomiting or diarrhea don’t want to travel to a pharmacy. For those willing, I sometimes provide symptomatic remedies. Sadly, in the US no common intestinal infection is curable with antibiotics.

Other acute illnesses are tricky, but a young woman who’s had several bladder infections knows when she has another. This is perhaps the only infection where it’s acceptable to prescribe an antibiotic over the phone.

Inevitably, respiratory infections produce the most “same thing” calls. Since one catches these from another person, the guests are on the right track. From my viewpoint, these are stressful calls because many guests proceed to tell me what they need, and they’re wrong.

As I repeat with boring regularity, many doctors, perhaps a majority, prescribe useless antibiotics for viral respiratory infections. That includes yours. That doesn’t mean you have a bad doctor; prescribing useless antibiotics is so common that competent doctors do it.

When, after hearing the symptoms, I explain that this doesn’t describe anything that antibiotics cure, guests assume there will be no antibiotic without a visit and a fat fee. In fact, I do everything possible to avoid a housecall because not giving an antibiotic guarantees an unhappy patient. If I yield to his entreaties, I hate myself.

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